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Asia, Pakistan, Western Himalaya, Nanga Parbat, Rakhiot Face; Chongra Main, West Ridge, First Ascent; Chongra South

Nanga Parbat, Rakhiot Face; Chongra Main, west ridge, first ascent; Chongra South. Italians Simon Kehrer, Walter Nones, and Karl Unterkircher climbed new routes on 6,830m Chongra Main and the Rakhiot Face (north face) of 8,126m Nanga Parbat. The latter climb ended at 7,500m following the death of Unterkircher in a crevasse fall at 6,300m.

The team arrived at base camp (3,940m) on June 11. Between June 22 and June 24, the three men ascended 6,480m Chon- gra South (6,448m on some maps), climbing from the west and then along the southwest ridge. After summiting on June 24, they returned to base camp by skis.

At the beginning of July, the trio began an alpine-style ascent of the unclimbed west ridge of Chon- gra Main. After crossing a heavily crevassed glacier, they climbed steep, loose rock slopes covered by 40cm of fresh snow to a 100m rock wall that required several pitches of loose fifth-class climbing, made more difficult by the 15kg-20kg packs they were carrying. Above, a sharp ridge led back to snow, through which they post-holed in warm temperatures to a bivy on a terrace at 5,600m. At dawn, they climbed to a ridge crest and continued up and down along it, and then up snow slopes as steep as 60°. Their second bivy was at 6,400m. On July 3 they climbed a 350m wall of 60° ice, followed by more deep snow with 50m of rock climbing. They summited at 11 a.m. After a rest they started down the south ridge and then traversed snow slopes just west of the ridge, passing below a minor summit between Chongras Main and South before dropping onto the glacier. They reached base camp that day after a descent of nearly 3,000 meters.

The three men began their alpine-style attempt on Nanga Parbat’s Rakhiot Face at 10 p.m. on July 14. At 4,500m they reached a tent and equipment cache they had placed earlier at the base of the wall. They began climbing after midnight on the 15th, following ice up to 60° to a nearly vertical mixed wall at 5,700m, which they climbed in two pitches of M4/5. Deep snow led to a 20m serac, followed by 250m of snow and ice. At 4 p.m. they arrived at 6,300m. Here, while trying to find a site for the tent, Unterkircher plummeted into a deep crevasse and was killed. After trying to reach him that night, Kehrer and Nones camped 50m away. The following morning they descended into the crevasse, where they found Unterkircher’s body buried under heavy snow. After trying unsuccessfully to recover the body, in dangerous conditions, the two men recovered Unterkircher’s pack, climbing gear, and satellite phone, and returned to the surface of the glacier.

After concluding it would be too dangerous to descend from this point, Kehrer and Nones decided to continue up the face to the Silver Plateau, the broad col between Nanga Parbat’s north summits and the Silberzacken. After another night at 6,300m, on July 17 they headed up and right by a longer but easier route than they’d originally planned to climb, following dangerous avalanche slopes interspersed with bands of steep mixed climbing. A strong storm arrived during the night of July 17, and the next day snow up to waist deep hindered their progress. The two men bivouacked at 6,650m, 6,800m, 7,000m, and 7,300m before cresting the face on July 21 and skiing to a tent site at 7,500m.

On July 22 and 23 they skied down the Buhl route (Nanga Parbat’s 1953 first-ascent route along the east ridge) in poor visibility, escaping two snow avalanches. During this time they were in telephone contact with their supporters and a rescue team. Although they had planned to descend on their own to base camp—as that is in the DNA of every climber—they agreed to be recovered by helicopter once they’d reached a low enough altitude because this might expedite rescuers’ chances for recovering Unterkircher’s body. On July 24 a helicopter picked up Kehrer and Nones at 5,400m and carried them to base camp, where the rescue team subsequently deemed the body recovery to be impossible, given the conditions.

The climbers dedicated their route on the Rakhiot Face, Via Karl Unterkircher (3,000m, IV-V M4+ 70°-80°), to their lost friend.

Franco Mucchietto, Italy